Monday, July 9, 2012

Italy Day 3: Vatican Museum, St. Peter's, The Best Pizza in Italy, Galleria Borghese,

Day 3. Here we go. The Vatican! 
My Latin is a little rusty. I think it says Vatican Museum.
Most people know that the Vatican is about a quarter mile square and the world's smallest independent nation, but what most people do not know is most of it is a museum, well most of the buildings are museum, most of the city seems to be gardens. There are a bunch of interesting facts about Vatican city most people never think about: There is no official language of Vatican City. There are virtually no civilian citizens of Vatican city - all the residents are either military, or clergy/administrators of the City. Weird, huh? 

We mostly came for the art.

Getting into the museum can involve waiting for hours in this crazy line:
Click to enlarge - it's mind-bending.
What we did - and what is a fantastic solution to this problem - is book our entry time in advance. Tour groups are granted scheduled entry times so there are plenty of services out there on the internet that don't include an actual tour, but gather people together for a "tour group" for the scheduled entry time. Once inside, everyone goes their own separate way. It's totally worth the extra few euros per ticket. Also: keep in mind that the entrance to the museums is nowhere near St. Peter's Square. Lots of people end up there, but the entrance is in the center of the North wall of Vatican City.

The museum is a vast sprawling mess of galleries, statuaries, chapels, and former residences. First, the galleries. Here's what caught my eye:
Giant tapestry of Da Vinci's last supper! 
Transfiguration by Raphael. Couldn't remember this painting so I looked it up here. The internet is incredible.
This next one cracks me up. 
There's a lot going on here. This is an extra piece of tapestry meant to frame a more masterful piece of art with another small piece on the other side of the main tapestry. Here the frame is FAR more interesting than whatever the centerpiece was. Here we've got a picture frame woven into the tapestry itself. That's pretty common, but we also have a muscly man punching through the frame!! And here I thought those Old Spice commercials were so innovative...
I find that in painted scenes in which something astounding is going on - people look like they're overacting. Like They're all turning away in a daytime soap opera or something.
I didn't turn the water into wine... it was... my twin brother!
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden - Wenzel Peter
Very Pretty
That Wenzel really knew what he was doing...
The main courtyard in the Vatican Museum contains a version of the "sphere within sphere" statue by Arnaldo Pomodoro. It's said to perhaps represent many different things, but I don't really understand this kind of art. It feels out of place in this pinnacle of classical art.
I can take it or leave it. 
Now Romans lounging around in marble, that I can wrap my mind around. Let's get to the part of the museum with stuff like that. 
The sculpture section(s) of the Vatican Museums is an impossibly large collection. Endless hallways lined with every sort of sculpture. If you wanted to read every explanation of every piece of art, you would never get to the Sistine Chapel.
Many many statues
Insert casting couch joke here.
For some reason there is an inordinate number of animal statues in the Vatican museums.
Pretty sure I wasn't supposed to touch this.
Four-legged creatures have to be propped up in the middle.
This guy came to Rome in a box set with all the obelisks strewn throughout the city.
One thing that is striking in here and in most lavish palaces, galleries, churches, etc. across Europe is how used to elaborate decoration you can get within just a couple of days. By this time we had to force ourselves to look at things like this:
Otherwise, we would've just walked right be it without a second thought.

Bless my soul! It's Hercules! Strange that the world's largest monotheistic headquarters should display so many relics from polytheistic religions...
Zero to Hero! Big bronze Hercules.
Ok get ready for the best part. Most tour books would have you believe that the "Map Room" in the vatican museum is just something to pass through like most of the rooms that are not the papal apartments or the Sistine chapel. The books will say basically, "next is the art gallery with many works of art... next is the statuary with so and so famous sculpture... then the map room... then the papal apartments! zomg! the papal apartments are the greatest thing and blah blah blah". 

Not so much as a word of explanation! Even the wikipedia page for the map room sells the place short. The map room is incredible. 
The walls are lined with (what else?) maps. Each region of Italy is depicted in all their 1580s glory. The  major towns of each region are inlaid in a profile. 
A map.
The maps would be incredible enough on their own, but the real incredible thing about the map room - is the ceiling. Every single inch of the ceiling is covered by incredible frescoes and dazzlingly molded frames. 

Take this fresco:
It's a nice lady.
It's a nice fresco. Now let's zoom out a bit.
Hmm, she seems to be overshadowed by some of the simple moldings around the frame of this fresco.
Ok now one step further back. BaBAM:
That fresco was just filler. The real masterpieces are the ones depicting elaborate scenes from the bible, or scenes from mythology! Look at all that stuff going on up there! 
Best room in the Vatican.
Old school Italy.
Modern Italy.
Hopefully now people will take the map room more seriously. Wish we could've stayed there the rest of the trip, but the rest of Italy beckoned. Next came the papal apartments. One would think the walls couldn't be any more covered with art, but one would be wrong until they reached this point in the tour.
Has all the tell-tale signs of a last supper, this does.
Coronation of some Pope or other.
I'm a very good tour guide.
Of course we have to take a picture of the Hebrew in the painting. It says the first words of the bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth"
Then there's the School of Athens! By Raphael!
Picture doesn't really do it justice. 
Raphael's masterpiece. It shows all the great thinkers of the classical era, many of them are painted with the likeness of contemporaries of Raphael. Lenodardo Da Vinci is center stage as Plato instructing his student, Aristotle. That guy thinking at the table is supposed to be Michelangelo as Herclitus. The list goes on and on.

Finally, we came to the Sistine Chapel.
The ceiling - not really supposed to take pictures here...
The Sistine chapel is the private worship space for the pope. It's also used for official functions of the Vatican like the conclave ceremony when the college of cardinals selects a new pope. Because it is in use for private services, the opening hours can vary. This can be very frustrating for the tourist who has traveled thousands of miles to see this little room - and then it's closed. We were lucky.

Most people are struck by how small the Sistine chapel feels. The ceiling, as most people know, is covered with the beginning of Genesis. In chronological order, god, as depicted in a flowing pink nightgown, creates light, sun, moon, stars, man etc. Then there are a few scenes depicting the story of Adam and Eve up until Noah and the flood. People are usually also aware of the last judgement fresco covering all of the wall behind the altar. Jesus surrounded by many saints sort people into heaven or hell as in the Christian belief in the "end of days". It's a very nice painting. If you look closely at the guy holding what appears to be a deflated human (it's supposed to be Saint Bartholomew holding his flayed skin) - the face of the deflated human is supposedly a self portrait of sorts of the artist Michelangelo, who also painted the ceiling.

What most people don't know is that the frescoes on the side walls depicting scenes from the lives of Jesus and Moses can be just as incredible as the ceiling and Last Judgement. These frescoes were by a combination of artists, and they are my favorite part of the room. If you know your bible, you can easily figure out what scenes are being depicted - just keep in mind who is who. Jesus is always wearing either purple and red or blue and red. 
Here he is giving the keys to the Church to his main man, Peter.
And Moses is always wearing green and yellow.
Here he is striking an Egyptian guard, running away from Egypt, driving away bandits for harassing Jethro's daughters, watering Jethro's daughters' flock, taking off his shoes, and meeting God as a burning bush (in this case it's just God peeking out from a bush for some reason), and then Moses leading the people. That guy got around! 
You could really spend days in the Vatican museums, but not if you want to see the rest of Italy when you're on a tight schedule - so around lunchtime, it was time to go. But not before taking a picture of this awesome spiral staircase near the exit:
We were even falling a little bit behind schedule, so we took a taxi from the museum's exit (North end of Vatican City), to St. Peter's square (East end of Vatican City). 
Here we are!
I've already somewhat described St. Peter's Basilica and Square in this post, so this will be brief. Hey look at that Swiss Guard!
I feel like they should probably switch to guns by now.
So we went through security at the North end of the square, went into the basilica, saw the Pieta on the right:
The most impressive part about Michelangelo is the sculpted cloth. Check that out!
Wowww! St. Peter's! It's incredible! St. Peter's is built over the tomb of St. Peter. Big surprise there... He was the first pope. Hey! There he is!
His foot is basically completely worn away from pilgrims touching it and kissing it for many centuries.
That was the Vatican. Just as enjoyable the second time around as the first.

I'm sure that plenty of people claim to have had the best pizza in Rome/the world. But THIS! This really is the greatest pizza in Rome/the world. Or at least conceivably it is. I can't imagine a world in which this pizza could be surpassed so it must be unsurpassed. Alice Pizza. Is a little a taglio (by the slice) place just a couple of blocks north of St. Peter's Square. It's not searchable in Google Maps, so here are some directions: Exit St. Peter's Square to the north and follow Via Di Porta Angelica for a couple of blocks. Turn right on Via Delle Grazie, and immediately on your right on that street you'll find Alice Pizza. 
There it is!
Alice Pizza is the perfect Italian pizza. It's flaky, and crispy, and the toppings! Ohhh man, the toppings. The different selection of toppings is always changing.
I'll have one of each, please. 
There is no place to sit really at Alice Pizza. Instead, there's a stack of little wicker seats to put on the front steps of the place so you can have somewhere to sit and eat. The only problem is, the seats can become so filled with diners, that the pizza place is hard to get to. Pizza a taglio is the Italian street food - meaning it's cheap, fast, and delicious.
Best pizza on earth.
Unfortunately, our very tight schedule didn't allow us to go inside the Castel Sant'Angelo, down the street from the Vatican, but we did get to walk by it and across the Ponte Sant'Angelo (castle and bridge of angels respectively - both of them have a lot of angel imagery hence their inclusion in "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown).
The Castel, from across the Ponte.
From there, we caught a taxi to take us to the last thing on the agenda for the day: the Galleria Borghese. Tickets to enter this famous gallery of artwork located within the Villa Borghese Gardens cost  €12.50 each, and have timed entrances. Your ticket is only good for a two hour period. Also: I heard when I was picking up our tickets at will-call, that they were sold out for most of the next week - so ordering online is a good way to go. Here is the website to order tickets in advance.

Pictures aren't allowed in the gallery. So here are a few I stole from the internet:
The place is very beautiful, but after wandering the Vatican for the first 5/6ths of the day, some of the wonderment was lost on us, but it's hard squeezing all the good parts of Rome out of just three days. 

We ate dinner at a little ristorante near the hotel on Via Palaestro. Here's what tired looks like:

1 comment:

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